Business Owner, Mass. Chief in Sprinkler Battle


WEST BROOKFIELD, Mass. -- The owner of a downtown commercial block claims he is being harassed by Fire Chief Paul J. Lupacchino. The chief recently ordered Douglas Aspinall, who owns a business block at East Main and Central streets, to install an expensive automatic fire sprinkler system, which Mr. Aspinall says exceeds the chief's authority.

Mr. Aspinall, whose building includes Plantation Country Store, alleges the chief has misinterpreted state law relative to the sprinkler installation order.

Chief Lupacchino, chief for two years, disagrees. He said state laws requires the sprinkler system in buildings that exceed 7,500 gross square feet and Mr. Aspinall's building has measured in at 10,500 square feet.

The law is MGL Chapter 148, Section 26G, which states that the total gross square footage is arrived at by adding the totals of all levels of a building, including the basement.

The chief said the sprinkler law took effect in January 2010 and Mr. Aspinall's property is not the only one being scrutinized here.

"It's not just him," Chief Lupacchino said. "There's other buildings in town that are having sprinkler systems installed."

He said Brookhaven Assisted Care on West Main Street is having to add onto its sprinkler system and Ye Olde Tavern on Route 9 is being investigated right now.

"Sprinkler systems save lives," the chief said, "and I have a requirement as a chief to order a sprinkler system. I have no other option, but the owner of the building has an appeals process."

The chief estimated a sprinkler system such as the one needed by Mr. Aspinall would likely cost in excess of $10,000.

"It's hard to do this job once in a while," Chief Lupacchino said, "but when it gets hard all I do is look at the safety side of it for the people. I want to be the friendly fire chief, but at times you have to make decisions that may not be the popular ones."

The building in question was closed last winter when a portion of its roof collapsed due to the weight of snow and ice. Mr. Aspinall's building was repaired and recently reopened, and that reconstruction work triggered the reappraisal of the structure's size, according to the chief.

Chief Lupacchino and Mr. Aspinall continue to disagree as to the applicability of MGL Chapter 148, Section 26 in dealing with the need for an automatic fire sprinkler system in Mr. Aspinall's building.

"Mr. Lupacchino has acted in excess of his authority," Mr. Aspinall wrote in a recent letter to selectmen. "He has confronted me personally and acted as a one-man department of fire chief, traffic police, building inspector and architect, unilaterally changing classifications of permits to benefit his personal agenda."

In a letter to Mr. Aspinall, Chief Lupacchino reminded him of his right to appeal the sprinkler system decision to the state with the possibility of him receiving a waiver.

He also informed Mr. Aspinall that he has up to a year to install the fire sprinkler system.

Mr. Aspinall, in concluding his letter to selectmen, threatened to seek a restraining order against the chief and legal action "should these actions continue."

The chief said the sprinkler law is there for a reason and "we're just trying to get everything up to speed in West Brookfield."

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